Australian Maurice Blair admits he knew little about the Challenge Cup on his arrival in England at Hull KR.
But with the Robins standing just two games away from the showpiece final at Wembley, the 30-year-old has quickly become a fan.
The buzz around the KC Lightstream Stadium ahead of Thursday’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup quarter-final with Catalans Dragons has left Blair in no doubt as to the importance of the knockout competition.
And with back-to-back Super League wins in their pockets, Hull KR and Blair go into the match with confidence rising.
“To be honest I didn’t really know that much about the Challenge Cup until I came here,” said Blair, who arrived in Hull during the winter after a career in Australia, playing with the likes of Penrith Panthers, Melbourne Storm and Gold Coast Titans.
“But after winning the first couple of games, everyone started to talk about it, and now you can see what it means to the fans and the organisation. I will be giving my all come Thursday.”
Rovers followed up a 38-16 win over Widnes Vikings, with a superb 36-10 victory against Warrington Wolves, ideal preparation ahead of the Dragons clash.
They reached the quarter-finals after away wins at Bradford Bulls and Wigan Warriors, where they pulled off an impressive 16-12 win in the last round.
“The Warrington win just came from our completions in the first half,” Blair told The Yorkshire Post. “We grinded it out; they threw a lot at us in the first 30 minutes.
“They threw everything they had at us, but we got a bit of the ball back and threw it around.
“It just gives us confidence going into the next game. We lost a couple of games where we probably should have won, but we have now knocked over a couple of good teams and just need to keep it going.
“We just need to get on with the job now and get our season going.”
Hull KR sit just outside the top eight in Super League, but all the attention this week is on the Cup.
Catalans are notoriously poor travellers, but with a hefty pack, will be no pushovers on Thursday. “Even their back rowers are big, and they are pretty smart too, a couple of good ball-playing back rows,” said Blair. “We will need to bring our ‘A game’.”
Hull KR’s recent good form has coincided with Blair switching from back-row to stand-off.
Filling the boots of the injured Terry Campese was never going to be easy, but the partnership with Albert Kelly – the duo played together in the NRL – has worked well.
Campese has been one of the stars of Super League this season, but his campaign is over after picking up a knee injury in the 30-22 defeat to Castleford Tigers.
So how is Blair enjoying the positional switch? “I am enjoying it a lot more than what I thought I would,” Blair smiled. “Coming from the back-row, making the tackles, now I have to think a bit more, help Albert out with the kicking and organising.
“I probably prefer the back-row now, I am getting a bit older. My legs are slowing down a bit, not too much though, hopefully. But I will just do whatever I need to do for the team, we need to win games and I will play in whatever position I need to play in.”
Catalans will be without stand-off Thomas Bosc, after he was ruled out for up to two months with a knee injury. Bosc joins a lengthy injury list at the Perpignan-based club which also includes Todd Carney, Willie Tonga, Michael Oldfield and Vincent Duport.
Huddersfield Giants have signed Melbourne Storm forward Ryan Hinchcliffe for the start of next season on a three-year deal.
Hinchcliffe, 30, who can operate at hooker or loose forward, has twice won Australia’s NRL Grand Final and played in two World Club Challenges.
Giants’ coach Paul Anderson said: “This is a huge signing for our club and, in truth, Ryan has been our No 1 target to bring in for quite some time now. You simply don’t get to lead the Melbourne Storm side out unless you have very special qualities and his NRL record is outstanding.”
Hinchcliffe has made 184 appearances in the NRL.
Super League’s bottom side Wakefield have attempted to strengthen ahead of their impending relegation fight by signing Samoa hooker Michael Sio.
Trinity have signed the 22-year-old former New Zealand Warriors player on an 18-month deal from Queensland Cup side Mackay Cutters.
Sio said: “To be given the opportunity to join Wakefield and play under Brian Smith, a legend of the game – there was never any doubt I would go.”